Ballston Spa Life
Mill operated in Factory Village for 80 years
Ballston Spa Life
BALLSTON SPA — One of the town’s longest-lived and successful paper mills was located just outside of Ballston Spa limits in Factory Village. It was originally built around 1850, only a few years after the first paper mills began to appear in the county. It also had the distinction of being the first in the area to use cedar, spruce, and poplar wood to manufacture paper.
For a few years in the 1850s, the mill was owned by E.H. Pease and Company. John McLean and his business partner Samuel Donaldson purchased the mill in 1859 and began making rag paper. As this proved to be unprofitable, he soon decided to upgrade the machinery to manufacture straw print under the name Hollister Mill, in deference to the mill’s original builder. About 1,000 tons of straw were used each year to manufacture 500 tons of finished paper for the Albany Journal and the Charleston Times.
A large fire nearly destroyed McLean’s mill in the spring of 1875. It originated in the straw room and spread rapidly throughout the building. Star Fire Company No. 2 responded to the alarm, but due to the distance involved, was not able to reach the site in time to save it. McLean estimated his loss to be $50,000. Despite setbacks like this, McLean ran the mill for 20 years and was considered one of the area’s most competent managers.
In 1880 McLean took on a new business partner named Harvey Donaldson, a former contractor from Montgomery County. After McLean died in 1881, the mill was run by Donaldson and H.M. Geer under the name Donaldson and Geer. The mill at this time manufactured straw print for the Albany Argus.
Another fire struck in 1884, this time originating in the machine room. Thomas Finley and Arthur Pitts, foreman and machine tender respectively, bravely fought the fire with a force pump until the Union Hose Company arrived, thus containing the flames to the machine room. The partnership’s loss came to $12,000, but they had adequate insurance to rebuild.
A few years after the second fire, the efficiency of the mill attracted outside interest and was purchased by the National Folding Box and Paper Company. The New Jersey-based corporation was formed in 1891 to manufacture folding cardboard boxes.
The company purchased a multitude of patents which it defended aggressively throughout the 1890s, particularly its “knock-down” boxes for selling women’s dresses. Demand for its products prompted owner D.S. Dalton to purchase the mill in Factory Village. Charles Rooney acted as superintendent for several decades.
A survey taken in 1908 by the Department of Health revealed that the mill had 30 employees and manufactured eleven tons of boxboard per day, more than any other paper mill in the area except the mills of Union Bag and Paper in Ballston Spa.
For three decades afterward, National Mill operated almost continuously without incident and kept a rather low profile. It was rarely even listed in the business directory, so that only nearby residents were even aware of its daily operations.
Strikes occurred now and then, but were less common than at the mills in Ballston Spa. However, one particularly bitter worker strike in 1919 persuaded National Folding Box to consolidate their operations in Connecticut.
The mill was leased to the American Paper Company, but a lack of business and another fire doomed the operation. The machinery was sold to a junk firm, and the remaining buildings were left vacant.
The last owner of record was Maine-based American Industrial Holding Corporation, owner of several large mills. It purchased the property in May, 1929 with big plans to manufacture specialty paper, but the closure of the Kaydeross Railroad a month later put an end to all activity at the site. Today only the cement foundation of one of the buildings remains.
Excerpted from the book “Lost Industries of the Kaydeross Valley: A History of Manufacturing in Ballston Spa, New York” available for sale at the Brookside Museum or on-line at www.HistoryOfSaratoga.com.